CUYAHOGA FALLS — The city school district is joining with other districts in an effort to recoup state money that went to the now-closed Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT).
The Cuyahoga Falls Board of Education recently approved having the district partner with several other districts — including Woodridge — to try to intervene in a lawsuit that was filed in August 2018 by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office against former ECOT officials and companies with ties to ECOT.
Ellen Kramer, of Cohen Rosenthal & Kramer LLP, representing the school districts, said her firm filed a motion to intervene on the districts’ behalf in Franklin County Court of Common Pleas on Jan. 29. Kramer added she is hoping that Judge Kimberly Cocroft will rule on the motion by the end of February.
The state has ordered ECOT, which opened in 2000, to repay nearly $80 million for claiming payment for thousands of students who the state said did not meet minimum participation requirements. The school closed last January.
The state claims it was over-billed by ECOT by $60.35 million in 2015-16 and by $19.3 million in 2016-17.
"Every dollar of state funding ECOT received from over-billing came from school districts in this state," stated the districts’ motion filed on Jan. 29. " … The over-billing is more than numbers on a ledger sheet — they are concrete educational opportunities lost. Real kids suffered real deprivations."
There is no cost to the Falls district to join the lawsuit, according to Cuyahoga Falls Board of Education President Karen Schofield.
The district’s memorandum of understanding with Cohen Rosenthal & Kramer LLP states the law firm "will be entitled to compensation equaling one-third" of the total amount of money the district is awarded in the case.
Schofield said Cuyahoga Falls and other school districts are "hoping to recoup some of the money that was taken from our [state] allocation" and went to ECOT.
Schofield added that ECOT "had attendance errors," and "was then forced to close."
"I think it’s important that we do everything we can to get our money back," said Board member Anthony Gomez. "It’s the people in our community’s money.It’s the tax dollars they pay and they deserve it to be supporting their public schools."
Gomez also noted the district attempting to join the lawsuit is not an attack on charter schools, adding the district has been "very supportive" of charter schools. At the same time, however, Gomez stated, "We’re not afraid to take a stand against those that are not good."
In addition to Cuyahoga Falls and Woodridge, Dayton Public Schools, Logan Hocking Local School District, Springfield City School District, Lake Local School District (Wood County), Toledo City School District and Northern Local School District are also attempting to intervene in the case.
Although then-Attorney General Mike DeWine filed a "complaint for recovery of public funds" in August against individuals and companies tied to ECOT, several school districts — which now include Cuyahoga Falls and Woodridge — have filed motions to "intervene" in the case because they have "considerable reservations about whether the [Attorney General] will adequately represent their interests in this proceeding," according to the motion. "The [Attorney General] has declined to bring a number of claims and to name a number of defendants despite being notified of their existence and substantial factual support."
The districts’ motion to intervene also claimed the Ohio Attorney General has been a "solid supporter of charter schools," and is "unquestionably a friend of these institutions."
Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.